The gunman who shot a top GOP congressman and several other people Wednesday at a baseball practice outside the nation’s capital had a long history of lashing out at Republicans and once frightened a neighbor by firing a rifle into a field behind his Illinois house.
That pivot in the story from police incident to politics happened rapidly around 11:15 am when CNN confirmed that the alleged shooter was James T. Hodgkinson of Illinois. A quick scan of his social media presence — Facebook and Twitter — suggested that he was strongly opposed to President Donald Trump and was a supporter of the 2016 presidential candidacy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent who ran as a Democrat.
Hodgkinson also apparently volunteered for Sanders campaign in Iowa during the 2016 campaign. Sanders condemned the shooting in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.
“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign,” Sanders said in a statement. “I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
Hodgkinson’s apparent Facebook profile page is an image of Sanders as “Uncle Sam” and one recent post from June 12 carries this message from Hodgkinson: “I want to say Mr. President for being an Asshole, you are Truly the Biggest Ass Hole We Have Ever Had in the Oval Office.”
The Belleville News-Democrat, the local paper in the community where Hodgkinson reportedly lived, showed a photo of him holding a “Tax the Rich” sign in a protest outside a local post office. The newspaper described Hodgkinson this way:
“The shooter was James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, who belonged to a number of anti-Republican groups, including one called ‘Terminate the Republican Party.'”
Hodgkinson wrote letters to the newspaper which published nearly two dozen letters between 2010 and 2012 comparing the economic conditions of the time to those that preceded the Great Depression and excoriated Congress for not increasing the number of tax brackets and taking other tax reform measures.
On May 14, 2010, he wrote: “I don’t envy the rich; I despise the way they have bought our politicians and twisted our laws to their benefit.”
Less than a year later, on March 4, 2011, he wrote that Congress should rewrite tax codes to ease the tax burdens of the middle class.
“Let’s get back to the good ol’ days, when our representatives had a backbone and a conscience,” he wrote.
Later that year, in October 2011, he applauded the Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York and Boston, writing that the demonstrators “are tired of our do-nothing Congress doing nothing while our country is going down the tubes.”
Hodgkinson also had arrests in his background for a series of minor offenses and at least one more serious offense. Court records show that his legal trouble started in the 1990s with arrests for resisting police and drunken driving. His most serious problems came in 2006, when he was arrested on a battery charge.
In April 2006, he was arrested on two counts of battery — one for striking a man in the face with a wood shotgun stock and another for punching a woman with his fist, as well as a count of unlawful damage to a motor vehicle for cutting the passenger seatbelt of the woman’s car with a knife. According to the court clerk, the charges were dismissed in November of that year.
President Donald Trump made no mention of politics in a brief statement just before noon eastern time. “We are strongest when we are unified and we work together for the common good,” Trump said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi both gave speeches of unity to applause on the floor of the House of Representatives.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Ryan said.
None of that stopped some conservatives from concluding that Hodgkinson was aiming to injure Republicans specifically, and that he was driven by a liberal culture that glorifies violence against GOPers.
Harlan Hill, a Trump-supporting pundit, tweeted this just after 9 am eastern time: “Events like today are EXACTLY why we took issue with NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President.” Donald Trump Jr., the son of the president, retweeted Hill’s comment — adding “This.”
Hill’s reference is to a controversial production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” by the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. In it, the Caesar character bears a striking resemblance to Trump. Obviously, if you know history, Caesar is assassinated by his peers including his best friend Brutus.
Hill was far from the only conservative to cast the shooting in a very political light.
“NBC mentions shooter’s social media page, BUT WON’T TELL US WHAT IT SAYS. (Bernie Sanders & Democratic Socialism),” tweeted Ann Coulter.
“A @BernieSanders supporter did shooting spree: James T. Hodgkinson who pushed a Change.org petition to appt indep counsel.” tweeted Laura Ingraham.
“This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack,” Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis, who was at the practice, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar Wednesday morning before Hodgkinson had been publicly identified as the alleged shooter.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on Fox News, called the shootings “part of a pattern” and blamed “an increasing intensity of hostility on the left.”
He said conservative college students are afraid they’ll be beaten on campus.
“The intensity is very real, whether it’s a so-called comedian holding up the president’s head covered in blood, or right here in New York City, a play that shows the president being assassinated, or it’s Democratic leading national politicians using vulgarity because they can’t find any common language to talk,” he said.
And Michael Caputo, a former Trump adviser, was even more blunt in an interview with a Bufflao radio station. “For nine months, Democratic Party leaders have lied, regularly calling me and my friends traitors, so forgive me if I’m not more tender with their Karma in Alexandria,” Caputo said.
Others were less direct in tying Hodgkinson’s apparent politics to this incident but did suggest that that the partisan political atmosphere clearly had something to do with the shooting.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, echoed Davis’ sentiment. “I do think that things have become very partisan and very hardened in the country today,” he said. “We have to work together to get things done and we’re the greatest nation in the world and there has been too much raw discourse today that is pulling people apart.”
But McAuliffe also mentioned that “there are too many guns on the streets,” a common theme for gun control advocates in the wake of attacks like these involving guns.
Rep. Mo Brooks, the Alabama Republican and another one of the people at the baseball field when the shooting happened, dismissed the idea that he might rethink his staunch support of the 2nd Amendment in the wake of this shooting. “The Second Amendment right to bear arms is to ensure that we always have a Republic,” Brooks said. “What we just saw here is one of the bad side effects of someone not exercising those rights properly.”
Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Republican from Georgia who was on the field when the shooting happened, suggested that members of Congress should be allowed to carry guns. “I think we need to look at some reciprocity for members here but we also need to look at security details,” Loudermilk told CNN’s Ashley Killough.
Until we know more about Hodgkinson’s motive — assuming we can find it out since he has now died from wounds he suffered — it’s difficult to reach hard and fast conclusions about why, allegedly, he did what he did.
Dale Walsh, 65, of Belleville, said he was a lifelong friend of Hodgkinson’s. He said Hodgkinson spent most of his life building homes but in recent years turned to home inspections.
Walsh said Hodgkinson never talked politics with him and did not seem prone to violence. But he said he was a passionate person who occasionally got into fights.
“He was the type of person that if you challenged him, he wouldn’t back off.”